Sniper says he is denied case files, clothing

Muhammad's lawyers seek change of venue for his second trial

September 01, 2004|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

FAIRFAX, Va. - Speaking in a low voice, convicted Washington-area sniper John Allen Muhammad complained yesterday to the judge who will preside over his next trial that his Northern Virginia jailers give him inadequate access to his voluminous legal files and are not letting him wear underwear to court.

"How does it make this courtroom safe with me coming into this courtroom with no T-shirt, no underwear and no socks?" asked Muhammad, who attended a July court hearing barefoot.

He implored the judge, "Can you please find out about my underwear?"

Muhammad's remarks came at the close of a day-and-a-half-long hearing requested by the defense to address pretrial issues in advance of Muhammad's scheduled Oct. 4 capital murder trial on charges that he killed FBI analyst Linda Franklin during the fall 2002 sniper rampage.

Calling the situation "ludicrous," Muhammad, 43 and appearing thinner, complained to Fairfax County Circuit Judge Jonathan C. Thacher that county jail officials let him take only one legal file at a time into his cell and that getting files can take weeks.

"The excuse is that it's a fire hazard," he said. "Who's starting a fire? I don't have any matches."

Muhammad has not been shy in court in the past. In his first trial, he briefly fired his attorneys, Peter D. Greenspun and Jonathan Shapiro, and in opening remarks told jurors he had direct knowledge of the sniper slayings but denied involvement. He allowed his lawyers to resume their role two days later, and they were appointed to continue to represent him in the Franklin case.

After the hearing, jail officials said wearing undergarments was up to Muhammad.

"He's got access to underwear, T-shirts, socks. It's up to him what he wants to put on his body," said Sheriff's Department Capt. Karen McClellan.

She said the department, which runs the jail, does not let inmates stockpile items in cells.

"Our policy is we do not ever allow anything to build up in a cell where he could become a fire hazard or any kind of a hazard," she said. Also, inmates are banned from having anything that can be used as a weapon, such as a wet newspaper.

She would not address specifics of Muhammad's complaint about access to files, saying that she and others had just met with the judge and that he will speak with the sheriff and send a letter to Muhammad's lawyers.

Muhammad walked into the courtroom this week with his wrists cuffed and clipped to hip tabs of a leather belt. A chain shackled his legs to the belt. His discomfort was evidenced by his wincing.

McClellan said the leather restraint was used "simply because of his behavior at his last court appearance."

In July, deputies said he slipped out of a chain around his waist that also tethered his wrists close to his abdomen - an allegation his lawyers disputed - and he rubbed the metal chain on the wood table where he sat with his lawyers.

"He damaged the table," McClellan said.

Yesterday, Greenspun also sought to have what will be Muhammad's second trial moved out of Fairfax, and a move raises the prospect of a delay.

Two previous sniper trials were moved from Northern Virginia to the Hampton Roads area to find jurors unaffected by the sniper shooting spree that claimed 11 lives in the Washington area.

In his first trial, Muhammad was convicted of murder and sentenced to death for the killing of Dean Meyers, 53, on Oct. 9, 2002, at a gas station in Prince William County. Greenspun and Shapiro requested the move.

The other sniper, Jamaican teenager Lee Boyd Malvo, was convicted of killing Franklin, 47, on Oct. 14, 2002, and sentenced to life in prison.

Yesterday, Greenspun cited two years of publicity, including details from the first trials, in arguing for a change of venue.

Fairfax County Commonwealth's Attorney Robert F. Horan said Greenspun had "chutzpah" to complain about publicity when he and Shapiro will speak on "A Look Inside the Washington Sniper Case" at next week's Fairfax Bar Association luncheon. Greenspun replied that the accusation was "meshugeneh" (Yiddish for crazy) because they would not discuss factual details. Horan continued to object to moving the trial, saying an unbiased jury could be found locally.

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